My First Time DMing

It is a fading memory, but only just. I had seen the world of D&D from the perspective of a player and I had a story I wanted to tell. You see, years before I created a character for general RP, but he never got to live and breathe in the world, so I wanted to create a campaign for him to exist in, meet people, and grow.

So Of Hand & Heart (OHAH) was born.

It was to be a story of awakening and understanding what that awakening meant by exploring history and using that to determine what the future might be. I wanted to DM that campaign using the D&D 5th Edition system I’d been introduced to.



The beginnings were hilarious as all of these things are since I decided I valued the telling of the story more than I valued the mechanics of D&D. That ended up with me trying to give someone a single ability that combined move earth + earth tremor or a custom pair of knives that could be magically summoned.

It was a bit of a hot mess in hindsight, but hella fun at the time.

I also factored in a lot of things from the Chinese Zodiac animals, elements, and personalities. As part of each character, I took their birthdays into account to make the game feel more real to them since the elements and animals affected the game. This ended up having an odd effect in the game in that is became… well… real.

Perhaps I should have just ran a module, and running those is fine. I have some I’d be interested in DMing and playing, but at the time, I had such a story I was burning to tell that a module wouldn’t do. That’s OK, too.



Along the way, as the adventure was filled to the brim with puzzles and trying to make sense of events, people began to drop off as the game demanded more from them than I believe they were prepared to give. That led to mixed signals for me as a DM; all of the players said they enjoyed the game when asked, but only 2 out of the 5 I began with remained until a point we had to take a several month long hiatus from the campaign.

It left me unsure of what to think about how things went. When digging for more specific feedback, I eventually got was even more confusing. “15/10”. “I like the game, but I don’t think I’m smart enough to play it.” Simple silence and absence.

The players injected a lot of themselves into the campaign. In a remarkable string of “coincidence”, many things that happened in the game eventually happened outside of the game. It went from being just a game to a tool for insight into the people playing.

That was a scary power to wield and continues to be. Ninbinz or Cakten can easily explain particulars, but that was quite the ride.

The other remaining players just sort of gave up, being too separated from each other and not having a common thread to bind them. Not to mention that I broke the fundamental rule of not splitting the party. While that lent to a bunch of personal development, it didn’t lead to much group bonding and that is a fundamental part of D&D which, much like mechanics, I didn’t prioritize.



I took some time over the months that followed to watch other people DM and determine what I liked and what I didn’t like. I can now narrow that to two things:

  1. I like thoughtful, creative DMing.
  2. I dislike lazy DMing.

After observing a number of different ways to work with the rules of D&D5e to build my world, asking a lot of questions, and playing more campaigns and observing my feelings about different moments in different games, I revamped the story to better utilize the actual rules and mechanics and will relaunch the story anew to a fresh set of players including the two from the previous campaign.

We recently had a special sendoff session where they reset the world and went into a new one. It was beautifully heartbreaking as we revisited the whole campaign in brief and brought the characters together for a final denouement before opening a door to a new adventure.

Some takeaways from all of this experience in terms of DMing were:

  • Parties should not be assumed. If you don’t tie people together, they won’t tie themselves together in most cases. Give your party a tying bind.
  • The rules are a ground. As much as I would rather have everyone be able to “use their brain”, the mechanics give your players – especially newer ones – a way to understand how they can interact with the world. The amount of times that, even with the rules in place, I’ve been told “I don’t know what to do” is still a surprise to me, but a good story requires an anchor. A reference to fall back to and work from. For your players, that’s the rules of their class related to the TRPG system you are using.
  • Meet your players halfway. As much as I want the players to come to the right conclusions in a complete way, sometimes they just don’t. I needed to be a bit more lenient with my players and use the actions they did take to guide them toward what they should do or where they should be. Ninbinz tried to tell me this, but in an indirect way: “Be more kind to your players.” Perfection is too much to ask for and misses the point of story, anyway.
  • Know what you expect from your players. I knew what I expected from the story and from myself as a writer, but if I had a better gauge of my players, I could have made a game that suited them better or I could have said, “Maybe this isn’t the game for you.” The truth is, some campaigns are just not for everyone and your stories are not for everyone and your characters are not for everyone and that is fine. More than fine. There’s a story for every one who would play D&D even if that story isn’t yours.

That said, there’s a lot of things I did the first time that I would not change; in fact, there are more than a few things that will happen just as they did before, but I’ll be a better DM for my players whole will hopefully be significantly less lost and far more invested this go-round as we walk through this new door of beginnings.

There’s even art for it! Here’s a social media image and a movie-sized poster for your enjoyment!

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